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Camera test: The iPhone 6 still won't beat a DSLR -- but it's close

Serenity Caldwell | Sept. 23, 2014
While I don't have any formal photography training, to say that I enjoy taking pictures is an understatement. I've been obsessed with digital photography and filmmaking ever since I picked up my first Olympus 2-megapixel camera, and that love has carried me through years of point-and-shoots, DSLRs, and phones.

Digital image stabilization is pretty nifty

According to Apple, your device "digitally stabilizes" an image by taking four images with short exposure times in a row and combining the best parts of each to create as clear and crisp an image as possible. It's very similar to how your phone's HDR (high dynamic range) setting works, and thankfully, Apple's speed improvements for snapping quick HDR images also carry over here.

There's definitely some shutter lag when either you or your subject is in motion. Snapping pictures of Fox the cat caused very little delay — I was even able to fire off a few Burst mode tests — but once I started shooting candids at my roller derby team's evening fundraiser, I ran into some slowdown.

Combining movement and low-light is a wee bit taxing; your phone's going to want to take pictures with a longer exposure time to avoid blurry subjects, and when it's trying to take four of those images in a row for stabilization purposes, it's going to be a few seconds before you can snap the next picture. For candids, this was no real problemm — most everyone's used to standing still momentarily to take a picture on a smartphone — but trying to take pictures of low-light subjects in motion is still a pretty terrible experience.

All that said, my DSLR isn't fantastic at snapping quick low-light motion shots without a good flash, either — it's impressive that the iPhone can pick up as much detail as it does. And when subjects are well-lit, the results can be downright spectacular.

Fun with the FaceTime HD front-facing camera

The iPhone's front-facing FaceTime HD camera is often neglected in the pomp and circumstance of new camera features: Its diminutive 1.2-megapixel camera and tiny sensor give it little room to compete with the back camera's 8-megapixel sensor and sapphire lens. But that doesn't stop Apple's users from loving this little bit of tech: selfies and FaceTime have made this camera just as important to a subset of iPhone aficionados.

So while the iPhone 6's front-facing camera isn't suddenly the most impressive selfie camera on the road, it packs a few nice features for the trip. The lens now has a f/2.2 aperture, same as the iPhone 6, and offers Auto HDR, burst mode, and exposure control for would-be selfie-takers.

I couldn't get HDR to officially trigger or display the "HDR On" button when shooting with the front-facing camera, but the resulting light-contrasted images I shot looked remarkably improved upon anything I'd shot with my iPhone 5s front camera. It's not to say that you should start using the front camera for everything under the sun, but it has become more of an option if you want to snap a decent picture without turning on the Timer or asking a passerby to take a photo.

 

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